The first Saturday of September every year is observed as International Vulture Awareness Day by the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Birds of Prey Programme (EWT-BoPP), its partners and associates including provincial conservation bodies and several other NGOs involved in vulture research and conservation in South Africa.
The purpose of this day is to create awareness of the ongoing plight of all vulture species and to highlight the work done by conservationists to monitor populations and implement effective measures to conserve these birds and their habitats.
“The day evolved from the Sasol National Vulture Awareness Day that has been celebrated in South Africa since 2005,” says EWT-BoPP Manager, André Botha.
“This initiative received such interest from organisations elsewhere in the world that the first international event was celebrated by 152 organisations representing 45 countries in 2009. We expect global support to be even greater this year.”
South Africa is home to nine vulture species. Seven of these species are listed in the Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland (Barnes, 2000) as facing a certain degree of threat of extinction. The Egyptian vulture, Neophron percnopterus, is one of only two bird species listed as “regionally extinct” in South Africa.
The bearded vulture, Gypaetus barbatus, whose range in southern Africa is restricted to the Maluti-Drakensberg mountains in South Africa and Lesotho is classified as endangered and continues to decline in numbers.
The Cape vulture, Gyps coprotheres, only occurs within southern Africa and the conservation of this species remains one of the main focal areas of the EWT-BoPP. Other species, such as the lappet-faced, Torgos tracheliotus, hooded Necrosyrtes monachus, white-headed, Trigonoceps occipitalis and African white-backed vulture, Gyps africanus mostly occur in large conservation areas and are listed as vulnerable.
Vultures are faced with a range of threats such as poisoning, persecution, electrocution and collision with powerlines, drowning in farm reservoirs in drier parts of the country, shortage of safe food supplies and loss of suitable habitat.
Recent research has shown that these birds are highly mobile and can cover several 100 kilometres a day in search of food. This makes the implementation of effective conservation measures to benefit these species a daunting task which needs to be approached from a national or international perspective.